Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘property maintenance

Perfect Aim

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You can color me duly impressed by the grand tree-cutting performance for which we had front-row seats yesterday. A large crew of workers with an impressive assortment of equipment showed up at sunrise and started their third day of work on the collection of properties that make up our Wildwood Lodge Club association.

They had saved the more complicated trees requiring a boom truck for yesterday and they began with the most challenging one while they were fresh. It was a tree that had a deck built around it so it was close to the house and didn’t allow for letting cut chunks of the trunk to just free-fall.

By the time they got to our place, they’d already brought down more trees than I could keep track of, and the choreography of their process had people spread out across multiple properties, tending to all phases of cleanup behind the guy in the bucket truck. He was a one-man wrecking crew. Said he’d been doing this for 34 years and his ease of working the controls of the bucket and cutting with the chainsaw provided visible confirmation of the proficiency that decades of experience provide.

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After a period of contemplation before he started, bucket-guy wandered off to recruit an assistant to place some tires and plywood at the base of our tree to protect some shrubs and the pavers. Then he proceeded to drop every last limb and section of cut trunk in a pile directly on top of his target. Only one piece rolled away after landing. Everything else stayed right where he put it.

His only faux pas was letting go of his handhold on the chainsaw one time when he thought it was in the pocket of his bucket, but it wasn’t. Luckily, it landed harmlessly in the pile of debris below and he calmly navigated the bucket down to the truck, climbed out, walked around the truck to pick up the saw, and then when right back up to finish the job as if he meant to do that.

I discovered the attachment I need for the skid steer I don’t own yet. Hah! I worry that I would find it hard to learn how to drive a skid steer. I doubt I would live long enough to also operate a claw device like they used to pick up everything that lands on the ground.

I’m pretty sure that guy could successfully pick up a penny off a glass surface with that clamp and not scratch the glass. He grasped bundles of branches and twirled the jaws to drop them on top of other debris so he could then scoop up the larger pile and haul off in reverse to the vicinity of the giant wood chipper.

I told Cyndie’s mom, Marie, that I should probably put one of those machines on my Christmas wish list.

I took a picture of the tree before they started and then again after it was removed.

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We were surprised that it didn’t appear like there was a gaping hole after it was gone. With the big tree no longer there, the surrounding trees that weren’t as noticeable before suddenly took on a new stature and prominence.

Upon completion of their day’s work, it was the bucket guy’s perfect aim that left the greatest impression on me. I’ve cut some big trees and I know how tricky it can be to get them to comply with our humble intent.

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Grand Opening

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One of the first projects we did shortly after we arrived here ten years ago had to do with the rusted old barbed wire fence along our northern property border. We climbed into the thick bramble of thorny trees and pulled up much of the old barbed wire, replacing it with a new nylon fence rope.

Our thinking at the time was that we might have horses coming near the fences along the property borders and barbed wire is inappropriate for horses. What we didn’t realize at the time was that the area we picked to start working was the least likely to ever have horse traffic near it.

For ten years since, much of that area has been ignored and allowed to grow unconstrained. That resulted in a wild thicket of grape vines snarled around the sharp thorns of wild plum trees. It was easy to cut vines and trees down but an incredibly frustrating battle to pull the branches apart and then shove them into a new tangle parallel to the fence line.

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We decided to leave a couple of nice-looking maple trees alone, even though they look like they are right in the middle of the pathway. They are easy enough to walk around and will be a nice asset as they grow to maturity in the years to come.

We ended up with a pleasing alleyway between the pine trees and the wall of tangled branches along the property line. My goal, as always along this stretch of our northern border from the road up to the shop garage, is to continually trim back new growth until that thicket begins to look like a giant hedge delineating our property line.

It was the grand opening of a pathway that took us ten years to finally accomplish.

I stacked a few rocks on the old pine stump we had saved for just that purpose. It was an expression of our interest in opening up this portion of trail for more regular visits.

Like every other new trail we have opened up, this one is suddenly our new favorite and beckons us to return for a stroll each time we venture outside.

We walked it with flashlights in the dark last night upon our return from rolling the trash bin down the end of the driveway by the road. Shortly after we had gotten back inside the house, one of the largest and loudest outbursts of coyote howling started up. We stepped outside to listen and I got the sense it was coming from two different directions.

I whistled my most shrill loud whistle and their yelping stopped. Cyndie walked to the barn and turned on all the outside lights.

My guess is they were all excited about our new trail and were feeling in a celebratory mood over it. It gives me pleasure to know they won’t be getting any chicken dinners from us. Not for a while, anyway. One never knows when the urge to have free-ranging chickens again will override our frustrations over losing so many of them to predators.

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Written by johnwhays

October 28, 2022 at 6:00 am

Overgrown Shrubs

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We took the plunge yesterday and began cutting down a thicket of Nannyberry Viburnum bushes behind Cyndie’s perennial garden. Neither of us is a fan of the funky smell nannyberry bushes give off when cut, so the work is stinky but the results are rewarding.

We also decided to remove the stick fence I built as a backdrop for her garden. It had partially collapsed anyway, so removal cleans the area up nicely.

Looking east before we started:

One of the triggers that started this exercise was the discovery of a nice volunteer oak tree that needed to have competition eliminated around it. Since we are currently on a mission to find and protect as many volunteer oak trees as possible that are sprouting all over our property, the obliteration of this stand of nannyberry bushes feels justified.

It’s just a side benefit that this will give me the pathway I always wanted along our property fence line behind her garden.

The view when we stopped cutting for the day:

Barely visible in the distance beyond the willow tree is the path of our north loop trail that currently turns to pass in front of the garden and leads to the driveway. That option will remain because it also leads toward the barn on the other side of the driveway and we are often coming from that direction to feed the horses after walking Delilah.

Soon there will be the additional option of continuing straight and walking behind the willow tree and perennial garden on the way to the back side of the shop garage.

We are prepared for the area to look ridiculous for a while, like a fresh haircut that needs time before it looks and feels like what we originally had in mind. I may consider reinstalling some leaning branch ( ////// ) fencing again in the vicinity of the garden if the change ends up looking a little too over-pruned.

At least the little oak tree stands out now without all the other branches blocking its air space.

There remains a fair amount of cutting to be done to remove the last of the nannyberry behind the garden. I’m hoping nothing interrupts our plan for today to continue what we started. The sooner we complete this section, the sooner I can turn around and go the other way, cutting out the untamed growth between the garden and the shop garage.

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Busted Tree

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In my post on Sunday, I mentioned it was windy over the weekend. Yesterday morning, I found a small dead tree had tipped across one of our trails. Later in the afternoon, we discovered a larger tree had busted off on a different trail. High winds tend to bring down more than just small branches around our property.

Maybe the portion of the trunk that had been chewed up by some scavenger became the weak spot, as it snapped off right in the middle of that gaping wound. Regardless, the upper portion is caught in other trees and will need to be dealt with using the chainsaw.

There are currently four other trees in our woods, one smaller and two larger, that are similarly hung up. I have multiple opportunities to practice using the knowledge I gained watching professionals bring down much larger “widow-makers.”

Our “vertical firewood storage” is looking to be cut up and split, whether I want to do it right now or not.

Overnight Sunday we were visited by a little thunder and lightning along with what sounded like decent rainfall on the roof and skylight. Yesterday morning it was hard to tell any precipitation had fallen by the looks of things on the ground. Luckily, by evening the precipitation on the radar looked much more widespread with a potential of extended duration.

By dinnertime, the deck was actually wet from falling rain. Cyndie successfully got a rain cover on Mia to give her an edge in fending off a chill overnight. It would be just great if gentle rain like we were getting would last for several days.

That would give me more justification for putting off the chainsaw challenge I’m not fired up to tackle.

We have a plan in mind to do some much easier chainsawing behind Cyndie’s perennial garden where we found an eight-foot oak tree that is being smothered by junk trees. Actually, they are more like overgrown bushes than they are trees. In cutting down those nuisances we’ll open a lane behind the garden to continue the last distance for our perimeter trail along our property border.

The length from the west end of the north loop trail to behind the shop garage is so congested with wild growth that we have just taken to the driveway over the last ten years. Clearing that section will be a lot of work but I’ve wanted to create a path there for a long time, so it will be a very rewarding effort for me.

Not that bringing down busted widow-makers and cutting them up isn’t rewarding. Opening up a trail though, offers endless appreciation ever after with each successive stroll.

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Written by johnwhays

October 25, 2022 at 6:00 am

Harvesting Rocks

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Since it is harvest season, we decided to grab a couple of shovels and head into our woods to harvest rocks for use in the labyrinth. The back half of the circling pathway needs additional rocks to fully complete the borders. This time of year it is easier to see where old rock piles have been swallowed by the woods. From now until the ground freezes becomes prime rock harvesting time.

It might look a little like the photo above when we arrive at first but prying loose just one of the rocks can start a chain reaction of adjacent rocks coming free, one after another.

We were quickly reminded that prop shovels made for the classic “breaking ground” ceremonies where executives and politicians all toss a scoopful of sand are not hardy enough for real work.

Cyndie claimed the shovel in the photo above from her mom’s garage last year as they cleared out possessions in advance of selling the property. Her dad had been involved in more than one of these ground breaking events over the years, keeping the shovels as mementos. This one is the second to have suffered this kind of fate when used in projects around our property.

I turned the previous one into an edger tool by grinding the what was left of the spade into a cutting blade.

After uncovering a reasonable number of healthy-sized rocks for our purposes, we used a wheelbarrow to move them from the woods to the periphery of the labyrinth.

The dusty clay soil gives them all the appearance of being one color at this point but a few rain showers will bring out more individual personalities over time.

Now comes the fun part, picking just the right rocks to fill in the gaps around the back half of the labyrinth pathway. My guess is we could probably use four times as many as we “harvested” today to achieve the full effect we are after, but this amount will occupy us for now.

I want to also get after staging more downed tree trunks and limbs for chipping. There are at least four different spots in our forest where the professional trimmers cut down trees late last winter, leaving the lumber for us to process.

Collecting rocks and trimming downed trees are the two ongoing projects that will never really have a completion point on our property.

They nicely compliment the other project that is always ongoing around here: composting manure.

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Written by johnwhays

October 4, 2022 at 6:00 am

Our Day

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A day after we celebrated Julian’s birthday with a family dinner at a Bloomington restaurant, Cyndie and I claimed yesterday for ourselves in honor of our 41st wedding anniversary. Our animal sitter, Grace, was on the calendar to free us up to do whatever we wanted. In the end, we both wanted to stay home and work on our property.

I am thrilled that our first accomplishment involved clearing small stumps, roots, and rocks in our north loop trail that have prevented me from being able to mow that section as low as desired for our walking trails. I’ve been wanting to take care of this nuisance issue for two summers.

In the afternoon, we focused our attention on the labyrinth. I brought down our new favorite tool, the electric push mower to give it a fresh cut.

We rearranged rocks and pulled weeds, addressing only a fraction of the total that is deserving of attention. The progress looks so good it has us both wanting to get back down there again soon to continue the beautification.

Just as we were about worn out for the day, we looked up to find the horses had wandered back to hang out in our proximity. That was all the invitation we needed to stop what we were doing to go hang out with them.

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Throughout the day we reminisced about our wedding day back in 1981, an outdoor service on a day with very similar weather to what we were enjoying yesterday. I remember the trees were starting to turn colors, similar to what is beginning to happen here this week.

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Written by johnwhays

September 20, 2022 at 6:00 am

Latest Addition

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We have another new tool for managing our landscape. I have tried three different methods of cutting the grass path of the labyrinth, starting with a reel mower. The grass grew too fast for the spinning scissor mechanism to keep up. Next up was the Stihl power trimmer. It worked well enough but took a long time (hours) and used up a fair amount of plastic line and multiple tanks of gas. It was a real workout.

The new tool, a 21″ electric push mower, seems like it will be the winner for this job. The third time’s the charm.

I couldn’t stop smiling after I finished the job in just 40 minutes, exhausting only one of the two batteries it holds.

There are a couple of spots where I hope to adjust the rocks to optimize the exercise. There is one small portion that is probably an inch too narrow and several where the width is wide enough I needed to back up and make a second pass. Most of the curving pathway is perfect for an easy walking push directly along the route. Adjusting the entire distance for a perfect width will make the job even more fun than it already is.

I’ve been contemplating a push mower as an alternative to the yard tractor for areas in our front yard where there are obstacles and slopes that are tricky to navigate. When I found an electric model that would fit well in the labyrinth and got Julian to bring one he owns for a test, the decision became pretty easy to make.

By the way, this manufacturer offers riding mowers, too. Hmm. No more oil changes, dirty air filters, spark plugs, fuel…

It’s tempting.

Even though there are other things I was hoping to accomplish today, all I really want to do is mow the tricky part of the front yard with the newest addition to our collection of yard maintenance tools. Somewhat reminiscent of a boy with a new toy.

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Written by johnwhays

September 12, 2022 at 6:00 am

Anticipating Delivery

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We were expecting a delivery of hay bales yesterday but by the time rain reached our region I assumed it wouldn’t happen. A chain of four people communicating, including Cyndie who was on a flight to Boston, revealed it was being rescheduled to today or tomorrow.

That was fine with me. I got some reasonable work accomplished while waiting in the morning, cutting the grass along the fence line down the driveway with the power trimmer. By the time I had exhausted the first tank of gas, a mist was beginning to fall.

I took Delilah for a walk and took advantage of an opportunity to take pictures of the aftermath of conquering the leaning poplar tree up near the road.

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That is the one that took me five angled cuts to bring the top portion vertical and then required I head back to get the pole chainsaw to finish. The job is not complete yet. I need to split the cut wood and haul off the branches to either be run through the chipper or tossed on the natural border fence along our north property line.

That will wait for another day. It isn’t raining right now, and I have just received a message that hay delivery will happen this morning. I am a little anxious about how the steep drop-off of our narrow new driveway will work for the turns required to come off the pavement at the roundabout of our hay shed and then back on again afterward.

I hope to be out there before he arrives to talk out a plan that should work best. Overshooting is a given, so I’d like to pick the most forgiving spot.

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Written by johnwhays

September 10, 2022 at 8:58 am

Better Base

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We returned home from the lake yesterday and got our first look at the completion of work by the excavating company that removed the old asphalt from our driveway. More important than just removing the old surface, they improved the base for laying down new asphalt. The new rock they added included a layer of surprisingly large-sized rock.

The big rock layer is visible on the edge of the more typical gravel base that was applied above it. This is just the thing I was hoping for after seeing how the previous asphalt sagged and broke apart over time due to the insufficient base.

Since we already had loads of gravel being hauled to our property, we asked them to also add fresh rock to the unpaved loop that circles our hay shed. The gravel that was laid down to originally create that drivable loop had almost disappeared beneath green growth that sprouted over the years.

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We don’t mind that grass and weeds sprout through the gravel (although I don’t like mowing it because rocks and mower blades don’t get along well) but we want to assure the loop remains firm enough to support heavy vehicles in all weather conditions. An additional layer of rock is a way of addressing that concern.

If all goes according to plan, the asphalt company will show up tomorrow. Based on what they mentioned when the job was quoted, the hot weather forecast for the week will be ideal for best results. “The hotter, the better,” they said. I will not be complaining about the heat this week no matter how uncomfortable it may get.

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Written by johnwhays

July 17, 2022 at 9:29 am

Just Starting

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We are just starting to find out how much work lies ahead to clean up all the downed trees left by the guys we hired to do all the cutting. After completing the willow, I set my sights on the next biggest mess of trees and branches just beside the labyrinth.

I cut and stacked the biggest chunks to be split for firewood.

I started a stack of branches that will be ideal for turning into chips.

The smallest branches will be hauled to our northern property line where we are making a “fence” by piling up brush.

After making just one trip with the ATV trailer filled to overflowing with branches, I’m thinking we may need to alter our plan. There is going to be a lot more brush to pile than there is space to pile it.

There is still a couple of days worth of clean-up to do in this spot.

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From here, I move on to roughly fifty more trees on the ground throughout our woods waiting to be processed. At least none of those will be as big as the two trees I’ve picked to do first. There’s a method to my madness. I hope it will keep getting easier as I work my way through our woods.

On a follow-up note about Pequenita’s diagnosis… We received confirmation on her hyperthyroidism and will treat her with medication. No other problems were detected in her blood analysis. She has lost five pounds since the last time she’d been in, which was a few years ago. Our wee one is living up to her name.

She is one tiny tortie.

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Written by johnwhays

May 25, 2022 at 6:00 am